W. MI to Become Testing Ground for New School Bus Alerts

Oct 23, 2023

Story originally posted by Teresa Weakley at WOOD-TV

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The large size of a school bus, combined with flashing lights and stop signs on a moveable arm, still isn’t enough to stop every driver from passing illegally.

Transportation departments record these illegal passes every day, but a technology company based in Chicago is recording the effort to prevent those violations using digital alerts.

“It’s all about rethinking the function of alerting to make not just pupils safer on the school bus, but also drivers that are passing by and interacting with school buses every day,” Brock Aun said.

He is the communications director for HAAS Alert, a company that uses its safety cloud to send data.

“We’re really at this exciting pivotal point where we’re able to use that kind of connectivity and that kind of technology to redefine safety in automotive and actually give drivers more advanced warning and preventative tools to stay safe rather than just reactionary tools that keep you safe in the middle of an emergency,” he said.

HAAS is relying on West Michigan for data and reactions in order to test this new effort.

Katrina Morris, the executive director of the Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation, has been working with HAAS, providing data from buses in the state for HAAS to use to develop the technology.

“We have devices that are uploading data to HAAS Alert, so they could code and make sure everything was right. They could see where our routes were, when or what the bus signals were when they turned on amber versus red lights,” she said.

Drivers in North Carolina tested the system earlier this year without realizing it. Aun told volunteers they would be testing a vehicle, then rode with them and asked questions about the car’s performance while directing the drivers to an area where he had a school bus in place. As they approached, an alert popped up on the car’s screen and a voice said, “Caution, school bus ahead.”

“We can see immediately not just their reaction to the road but also literally the movement of their feet. We see that they immediately go to slow down and brake. And that helps us understand the nature of these alerts and how they impact driver behavior,” Aun said.

Lighting is another issue during early morning and evening bus trips. HAAS Alert has been working with a lighting company in North Carolina on a solution that would work with digital alerts to dim the headlights on a bus as it comes to a stop.

“We demonstrated not just the inadequacy of existing lighting and how dangerous it is, but also the impact of giving people advanced warning they come up on school buses,” Aun said.

The testing the company did in North Carolina only included the alerts to gauge driver reaction, but it showed how difficult it is for drivers to see children through the bright lights. The next phase of testing will include dimming the bus lights while also sending the alerts. That testing will take place in West Michigan in late 2023 or early 2024.

Once the testing is done, it won’t take long for drivers to start seeing those alerts.

“A lot of our buses in the state. already have GPS enabled. That being said, hopefully, this will be able to come through very quickly and smoothly,” Morris said.

This won’t be the first time HAAS Alert has relied on West Michigan as a testing ground. The company worked with the Grand Rapids Fire Department to test the same type of tech on fire trucks.

Aun explained the alerts work by coming through apps like Waze, Apple Maps and Google Maps but can also show up directly through a vehicle with the right software installed. He said Stellantis can update vehicles going back several years to be compatible with these alerts and his company is working with other automakers and app companies, like Google and Apple.

“In a perfect world, your car will naturally and organically do this for you just based on its in-road connectivity. That is the future we’re moving to, where drivers don’t have to be tethered to their mobile device,” he said.

He also said the alerts area already doing that for emergency vehicles, like fire trucks.

“Across the country earlier this year, there are people who drive a 2018 Jeep, and they woke up and drove to work and got an alert in their vehicle that there was an emergency vehicle ahead. That was something they didn’t know their car could do, and now it can,” Aun explained.

About HAAS Alert

HAAS Alert makes roads and communities safer by delivering digital alerts from emergency response and other municipal fleets to nearby drivers. The company streams real-time alerts and other vital safety information to motorists and connected cars via in-vehicle and navigation systems when emergency vehicles are approaching and on-scene. For emergency response and roadway fleets interested in joining the Safety Cloud, click below to get equipped.